The 'Newest Wrinkle' In The Banks Development

Aug 11, 2020

Hamilton County Commission President Denise Driehaus is referring to the most recent setback with development of a music venue at The Banks as the "newest wrinkle." At issue is whether the county or Cincinnati should develop the park space on lot 23 next to the music venue site.

The county had been developing this park space, which will function as part of the outdoor performance space for the future Andrew J. Brady ICON Music Center. County Administrator Jeff Aluotto says the county offered to do this work because it already had contracts in place. The space would be turned over to the city when finished.

"Sometime last week City Council passed a motion or an ordinance suggesting another route forward on this that would have the county turn over lot 23, which would be the park, to the city, assign the different contracts associated with that so that the city could move forward and do that on their own as opposed to the county doing it on their behalf," Alluotto says.

Then on Thursday, the city of Cincinnati pulled the county's permit for work on a sliver of land along Race Street that will be the entrance to the park. As of Tuesday afternoon, work remains stopped on the Race Street corridor where you will enter the park, according to a county spokesperson.

Aluotto says he's spoken with Interim City Manager Paula Boggs Muething, indicating the county might be open to the idea of the city finishing the lot 23 work. The county is awaiting more information from the city.

"We have offered to look into that with one caveat," Driehaus says. "We have an obligation, the city and the county together have a collective obligation to make sure that that park is open by May 1. That is the deadline related to the music venue and outdoor concerts and that is something we are committed to and we don't want to do anything that will interfere with that park opening up by May 1."

There's also the issue of whether the contractor on the job is amenable to the change. The county says it will have to look into that as well.

Commission Vice President Stephanie Summerow Dumas says the goal is to make sure the project is done on time so no one loses money, especially Music & Event Management Inc. (MEMI), the organization that will own and operate the ICON Music Center, and the county.

"If the city wants to build the park, so be it. If they delay or are not able to reach that May 1 goal, is the county then going to be responsible for footing additional money to make sure that deadline is met?" she asks.

She suggests MEMI put pressure on the city to finish on time.

"I don't think we should be paying more money for a city-owned property because they're not meeting the deadline, and MEMI needs to make their voices known to the city about meeting that May 1 deadline."

Commissioner Victoria Parks was party to many of the conversations between Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and former Commissioner Todd Portune for whom she took over upon his death last year. She has said Portune would not have supported vast changes to the original master development agreement (MDA), which lays out the legal framework between the city and county for The Banks, and how public infrastructure like parking garages and streets are financed.

Her comments Tuesday were brief: "I'm just really looking forward to coming up with a plan to move forward."

Last week Mayor John Cranley said the county has been negotiating in bad faith over a new cooperation agreement for The Banks and accused the county's legal team of delaying.

"In all my conversations with President Driehaus, she has always stated that she supports the concept of lots 1 and 13 being exclusively developed by us and 24 and 25 by the county, and when I've explained that that's in fact not what the documents we're receiving from her lawyers state, she has said repeatedly 'I'm not a lawyer but that's what they tell me they say,' " Cranley said.